Don & Donna’s fabulous visit:
We drove, ate, drank, toured; drove, ate drank toured; drove ate drank toured! They were here for three weeks and we took them on three separate trips. We saw so many wonderful sites, ate at so many great restaurants and had so many good laughs that I am not sure how I am going select what to tell you about. Here are the highlights -
Trip one: Alsace France - a six hour drive northeast. It borders France and Germany. Trip two: Normandy France another six hour drive, and the final trip, an overnight train ride to Paris. Wonderful! We also did several things in Brussels: palaces, gardens, markets, churches, & bars. Other than one afternoon, we had picture-perfect weather the entire time they were here, which is quite unusual to go this long without rain.
Brussels: We gave them three days to adjust to Belgium time. During this period we took it easy. We visited our local Wednesday market, showed them where D works, our favorite pub, and all around our neighborhood. They took a bus tour to get an overview of the city and to see all the major sites. We also visited the royal gardens that are only open for three weeks in the spring.
This photo was taken in front of the Royal Palace which is just around the corner from our apartment.
We introduced them to several Belgium specialties including the yummy Belgium waffles!
We started the first trip with a visit to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg (http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/lx.php) where General George Patton is buried (seen in photo below).
His grave faces the graves of the 5076 buried there as if he were addressing his troops.
During the drive, we passed through four countries in less than one hour: Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and France. We wanted to make sure they were getting their money’s worth out of this trip. We settled in a small town in the Alsace region at Le Ambiance Jardin (www.ambiance-jardin.com/chambres_en.html). This is a wonderful B&B Donald and I had stayed at over Christmas. Pierette is a friendly host and anyone who visits would fall in love with the house and the gardens.
Our first day we spent in the city of Strasbourg, a beautiful town with a very unique cathedral build out of sandstone.
The Alsace Region is known for great white wines like Riesling and Pinot Gris. We spent one day driving through the vineyards and visited many of the small towns. Most of the towns date back to the 1500’s. It is just amazing to see such ancient structures still standing and the level of architectural details.
Donna was a great co-pilot while Donald was driving. Don and I napped constantly. Surely it was because, we were always on the sunny side of the car which created the perfect environment for a nap. That's our story...and we are sticking to it!
As we headed back to Brussels we stopped at the Haute-Koenigsbourg castle (http://www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr/en). It was constructed in the 12th century, abandoned in 1633 and then restored between the years of 1900 and 1908. It was Donna's first visit to a castle.
The drive to and from both locations was absolutely gorgeous. The fields were green and plush, dotted with cows of every type. It reminded Don of growing up on the farm and he was quite the tour guide by naming the different crops and cows. There were also beautiful fields of yellow flowers. Usually mustard flowers and sometimes rapeseed which is used to make canola oil.
Donald took us on a wild goose chase to find the "Big Chair" in the middle of the vineyard. He had looked it up on Google Earth and thought it would be cool to see. The only problem was...there were no roads and he was driving through the vineyard. Don & Donald were enjoying the adventure, Donna and I were a bit nervous. Needless to say, we did not get any closer. But we did have a good laugh.
Don had to hit the banking machine frequently!
His favorite joke of the trip was to discuss the value of the "American peso" with the Europeans. Not sure they fully got the joke, but Don sure enjoyed it.
One day we went to Germany to have lunch. In the afternoon we stopped for an ice cream break in a little town. Everyone who knows me understands my love of ice cream. But those of you who don't, well let's just say I will do ANYTHING for ice cream : ). We all ordered and as I saw these big bowls of ice cream come towards me I was so excited. But What? My bowl was only one scoop! Guess our German was not so good!
In case you are not feeling my pain, I have blown it up for greater clarity:
Everyone took pity on me and shared theirs. The conclusion was I ate more than if I had a big bowl!
A few fun shots:
The top left photo is the castle that Malcome Forbes purchased in the 70's. His family still owns it. Chateau de Balleroy (http://www.chateau-balleroy.com/us/cadre.htm).
Other photos are various towns in France.
Back to Brussels to wash clothes and regroup for the next trip. Poor Donald had to work in-between our trips.
Normandy: In Normandy we stayed at two different places. The first was a beautiful chateau - Chateau de Pont Rilly (http://www.chateau-normandy.com/). It was built in 1765. After the Normandy invasion during WWII, it was used as a headquarters by the US Army.
It had all kinds of animals including a black swan,
martha stewart chickens, sheep, lambs, a donkey, even peacocks. Have you ever heard the cry of a peacock? LOUD.
Our rooms were in the Old Mill. This was the view of the main house from our window. We had a lovely breakfast in the main building and the owner gave us a tour of the private area of the chateau which has remained unchanged since the 18th century. It was fully furnished with exquisite wooden paneling, rare marble fireplaces, antique furniture and accessories. We have paid to tour châteaux that were not as nicely decorated as this place!
Couldn't resist adding this photo - they were so cute running all around us as we came and went. Very friendly.
The second place we stayed was a smaller chateau with a llama. Don said he would highly RECOMMEND it to anyone.
We hired a guide Cousin Kelly told us about. Roel at Victory Tours (http://www.victorytours.com) he took us on a 5 hour tour of the WWII sites: Landing beaches, cemeteries, German defense batteries, etc.
The Normandy American Cemetery is 172.5 acres, with 9,387 burials of US service men and women. Of this number, 307 are unknowns, three are Medal of Honor winners and four are women. (http://www.battlefieldsww2.50megs.com/normandy_american_cemetery.htm).
In addition there are 33 pairs of brothers buried side by side. It is the largest American Cemetery from WW2, but not the largest in Europe: that is the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Belgium from WW1 with more than 14,000 burials.
This is one of the German bunkers defending the landing zone. The guns could shoot over 20 miles. The ground surrounding the bunkers are still covered with bomb craters from the US ships firing during the landing. From the back side, you could not see the hidden bunkers.
We visited the Abbaye De Jumieges. Said to have been founded by St Philibert in 654 AD. The abbey was burned by Vikings in 841, rebuilt a century later, then destroyed again – as a deliberate act – during the Revolution. Its main surviving outline dates from the eleventh century – William the Conqueror himself attended its re-consecration in 1067.
This area also had great food. Donna found two favorites, an apple brandy aperitif and the desserts! One night we went out for crepes (a specialty of this area) and she decided that she was going to have the apple crepe as her main dish and then a hot fudge Sunday for dessert! Isn’t that what vacations are all about? We also had some of the best mussels we have ever eaten.
Honfleur, shown below, one of the most picturesque old fishing ports in France. Having escaped major damage in World War II, the working port looks like an antique. Honfleur dates from the 11th century. Artists, including Daubigny, Corot, and Monet, have long favored this port.
On the way home we stopped at Mont Saint-Michel.
According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Saint-Michel).
Back home for one day - laundry, recoup and Donald worked.
Paris: Ah.....Paris the city of romance.......
and more cafes...
It called for rain but we got very lucky and only had rain late one evening. Unfortunately it was our only time to see the Eiffel tower at night. But the umbrellas do give it an added touch! Don & Donna did a bus tour where they got to see all the major sites of the city.
We leave you with a toast -
For Don and Donna's 70th birthdays which they will both celebrate this year (this trip was their gift to each other).
We hope you enjoyed seeing a little of our three week trip with Don & Donna. Don is already planning for next year!